It may feel early to be thinking about holiday planning, especially if you have other big shopping events in your near future. But many retailers are starting to double down and plan early for the year-end holidays to put in place the best strategy that will win over their customers and prospective buyers.
When thinking about year-end holidays, your mind may go straight to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These shopping days have become synonymous with the month of November. And because of the propensity for shoppers to browse and purchase online during these holidays, it’s also pushed many retailers to focus on creating (or improving) their online strategy.
Ensuring your website is in top shape for big shopping days is increasingly important, but it shouldn’t be the only channel you put your efforts behind. With many holiday shoppers switching between several channels before purchasing, having an omnichannel approach is more important than ever.
Not only that, but for retailers to be successful, they need an omnichannel approach that speaks to each customer as an individual. Why? Because more and more consumers are demanding a personalized and unique experience from brands to continue buying from them.
In this article, we’ll break down how marketers can create a cohesive and personalized omnichannel shopping experience for the year-end holiday season.
Personalization Is All about the Customer
When planning out a strategy, it’s important to remember why you’re doing any of this in the first place. Earning and retaining customers is the sole purpose of our role in an organization. Marketing to customers is all about creating an experience that delights them to the point of purchase. But even more than that, we need to keep them engaged enough to continue to purchase from our brand.
As marketers, we have to step back and realize that in order to do that, we have to rethink our strategies. When planning an omnichannel strategy, it can’t be about fitting customers into certain channels; it has to be about tailoring our channels and strategies to each individual customer.
Personalizing the Omnichannel Experience
As mentioned above, consumers are demanding personalized marketing experiences. The more data marketers are collecting, the more fuel you have to create a truly individualized experience for shoppers. Messages and product recommendations should be personalized. And in most cases, even incentives to purchase should be created and deployed on a one-to-one basis.
In short, marketing must be personalized, and personalization should be all about the individual consumer. But why then do we create omnichannel experiences that lead customers through a flat, one-size-fits-all lifecycle?
We can’t assume that every customer purchases in-store, gives us their email, and then purchases online after that. Customers find brands in several ways, and no two customers’ paths to brand loyalty are the same.
In fact, a study from Harvard Business Review of 46,000 shoppers showed that 73% shopped using multiple channels and those shoppers enjoyed using multiple touchpoints from retailers.
Below are examples of different touchpoints customers can have with your brand throughout their customer lifecycle. As you can see, there are several different touchpoints that intertwine between channels, and there are numerous customer journey possibilities. And for customers, if they’re switching between touchpoints and channels and have a bad experience, they’re less likely to purchase from you in the future.
Allow Customers to Easily Move Between Channels
For customers who regularly shop on a certain channel, they probably bounce between touchpoints and channels. The problem is that they’re probably also bouncing between your brand and your competitors. This is especially true for brands who lack a seamless (and easy-to-navigate) omnichannel experience.
Because of this, it’s incredibly important to ensure your omnichannel strategy allows customers to easily navigate between all your channels.
On every channel, make sure you include links and CTAs that also point customers to different channels. It’s important to give customers the option to visit you on other channels, and by including these links in your marketing messages, you have better control over the experience a customer has when navigating to a new channel.
Related Content: How to Use Omnichannel Marketing to Improve the Customer Journey
For some marketers, asking engaged users to opt-in to or just visit other channels may seem pushy, but because customers are already shifting between channels, you must give them opportunities to easily access your channels instead of a competitor’s. This allows your customers to follow their own lifecycle journey and enables you to support each customer as an individual. One of the best ways to do this is to create a strategy that leads with personalization.
After creating an experience that allows customers to easily move through your omnichannel offering at their own pace, you need to create a personalization strategy for each channel.
Personalization Channel by Channel
So how can you set up your channels to create the best possible experience for your customers? Let’s break down how you can add personalization throughout the customer experience on each channel.
As digital marketers, it may not occur to us to think of in-store first when it comes to creating an omnichannel strategy. But for customers, in-store still matters, and 22% of consumers say that physical shops were their most common source of initial product awareness, meaning customers are discovering products in-store before any other channel. And remember, this is more about the customer than your desired strategy.
Collect data in-store
Whether at the point-of-sale or during the browsing process, make sure to collect data on your customers now. Start by getting an email address and asking if they’d like to receive promotions on products they like and sales. From there, each time a customer visits or makes a purchase in-store, continue collecting additional information and asking them if they’d like to opt-in to other channel communication. Getting customer data (and opt-ins) ahead of the holidays is half the battle. Once you have that information, you can start learning more about their preferences and make sure you provide personalized communications come holiday time.
Offer free in-store pickup
In today’s omnichannel world, more and more stores are offering free in-store pickup to customers. For many consumers, the cost of shipping and the time it takes for delivery are some of the biggest deterrents from online shopping. If you can offer free in-store pickup, you give customers the chance to purchase from you on another channel and physically bring them into your store, where they might be interested in other products. This will be crucial for customers who drag their feet to shop — last-minute purchases (on Super Saturday) still account for a large amount of dollars spent in the holiday season.
Offer free shipping for out of stock items
For many retail brands, in-store availability of certain products may be limited. But if a customer comes in to purchase an item and you have it available online, consider ordering and shipping the product to the customer for free. Not only are you getting that purchase, but you’re also offering an incredible customer service experience that will encourage them to come back to your brand in the future.
By offering these cross-channel experiences and delivering exceptional customer service, you’re setting yourself up for success when it comes to converting in-store shoppers to online shoppers.
Consider your website as your home base for all online channels. Wherever a shopper finds you (on Google, on a social media site, etc.), all roads should lead back to your website. After all, it’s the number one channel for online conversions. But outside of just making your website similar in look and feel to your other channels, you want to make sure to create a personalized website experience for each individual customer.
Collect customer data
Once again, collecting customer data will be the key to providing a personalized experience for customers. Even before you capture their data, cookies collect browsing history for customers. So, once you get an email address from a customer, her profile will backfill with any browsing history, giving you a more complete picture of who she is. Being able to understand more about your customer before the holiday season will be crucial for creating targeted and purposeful holiday messages.
Add product recommendation widgets
Your website should be all about converting browsers to customers. What better way to do that than to feed potential buyers with products they’ve browsed before or left in their cart? You can also create widgets that recommend products based on customer behavior. For example, if they were looking at a certain travel accessory bag on your site, recommend similar styles to them to entice a click and ultimately a purchase.
Include customer reviews
Many consumers visit several competing websites when shopping for a product. They want to compare prices, and they want to compare reviews. As consumers, we trust family, friends, and other shoppers before we trust a brand. Make research and comparison easy for your customers by including reviews of products on each page. You can also feature customer-generated content on product pages (or any page) that shows your real customers enjoying your products. Not only does this show your brand really loves your customers, but it also shows that customers love your brand.
If email is the primary way a customer hears from you, it’s important to make sure your brand is communicating with that customer in a way that makes them feel unique and understood. Launching one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns will never be the way to lead customers through the buying lifecycle. Instead, focus on customizable emails that focus on the individual customer’s behavior. This level of personalization will keep you top of mind during the holidays.
Include personalized product recommendations
In any email, it’s important to personalize when you can. And we don’t mean adding a contact’s first name to the email. Personalization today goes far beyond that. In addition to contact details, use browsing and purchase behavior to include recommended products in every email. Products that are related or similar to a past purchase (or browse session) will show customers you’ve taken the time to get to know their interests.
Personalize triggered emails based on behavior
Triggered emails, like browse abandon and abandoned cart, are very popular among marketers. After all, they offer a second chance for users to click through and purchase, and these types of email are fairly easy to implement. But for many marketers, they miss the point of why carts are abandoned in the first place. Customers often are bouncing between competitor sites and looking for the best deal. Use past customer behavior to include an incentive to drive a conversion. Did the customer use a free shipping code on their last visit? Consider throwing in free shipping to see if that will bring them back to your product page and purchase.
Mobile and Push Notifications
Over the past two years, mobile apps have become a critical way for customers to interact with brands, especially during late November and December. Consumers who regularly use retail apps have grown accustomed to helpful features built into the app, like in-app messaging. Mobile marketing can be a powerful tool you’ll want to start using before the year-end holiday events.
Ask users to opt-in to push messages
If customers download your app, it’s important to make sure they opt-in to push notifications. These messages can be the most lucrative for retail apps. When customers sign in to your new app, give them directions on how to opt-in on their mobile device to ensure they never miss an important sale or new product. This allows you to get the opt-in before you start pushing holiday sales.
Use push notifications wisely
Just because apps and in-app messaging are increasingly popular, that doesn’t mean you should abuse the power. Just like emails, too many messages can cause fatigue for customers. Make sure your notifications are personalized and purposeful. Again, sending a one-size-fits-all message constantly to your users will make your brand seem like you don’t understand them at all. Create personalized campaigns that send messages about certain products and promotions that are in line with each customers’ behavior.
While SMS marketing messages have a staggering 98% open rate, not all opens will result in a purchase. But that doesn’t mean they won’t convert – 29% of targeted customers will respond to text messages, and 47% of those responders go on to make a purchase.
Optimize send times for individuals
Not all of your contacts are in the same time zone, meaning you shouldn’t send messages to your entire list at the same time. Beyond time zone considerations, each individual also has a unique time when they are most likely to respond to your messages. Use A/B testing to identify the best time to reach each customer and give them a personalized experience while also giving your brand a better chance for a conversion.
Use targeted and personalized offers
Once again, creating messages and campaigns based on user behavior will make you stand out among your competitors. Rather than sending mass SMS texts, send segmented, individualized messages based on past purchases, browsing, and interests.
Digital advertising no longer means just bidding on keywords on Google. For retailers, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have opened up an entirely new way to reach customers. Not only that, but brands can now target customers using ads on other sites, making it easier to follow your customer around when they are researching products and just browsing the internet.
Retarget based on customer data
The best way to create a personalized experience that sets up your brand for success during the holidays is to use customer data to influence which ads they see. Retargeting ads use data to show products that a customer recently browsed or added to a cart on different sites they’ve visited. This shows customers that your brand knows what they like — it also shows you’re willing to meet them where they are in their buying process.
For as long as I can remember, Shep Hyken has been THE authority in the customer service and customer experience space.
He consults and advises top brands like Applebee’s, IBM, Lexus, and Shell, and has appeared in/on USA Today, FOX, Forbes, The Huffington Post, CBS, NBC, and more.
Hyken is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of half a dozen books, and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession.
Location: St. Louis, MO
I’m the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. If you’ve ever walked away from a company or an employee and thought, “Wow, that was an amazing experience!” well, that’s what we help our clients achieve. We work with companies who want to create amazing customer service experiences for their customers, clients, guests, patients, or other stakeholders.
One word that best describes how you view the state of marketing/CX today:
An explanation: We are living in an age where the ability to deliver an amazing CX is exploding with opportunity due to advances in the Internet, social media, computing power, AI, and more.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today:
I started my first business when I was twelve. It was a birthday party magic show business. After my first show, my mom told me to write a thank you note to the parents who hired me. My dad told me to follow up a week later with a phone call, and thank the parents again. He also suggested asking for feedback. At the young age of twelve, my parents were teaching me valuable customer service lessons; saying ‘thank you’ and getting feedback – and more.
My business and reputation grew. When I graduated college I saw a couple of motivational sales speakers and thought, “I can do that!”
I had a little business background and a college education, so I wrote a speech focused on customer service. That was back in 1983. Since then I’ve had the privilege and honor to work with amazing clients, have written bestselling books, and continue to learn about my passion in life: customer service and CX.
What do you wish CX practitioners knew (but you’re pretty sure they don’t)?
CX is not a marketing initiative or a department. CX is a philosophy that permeates through the entire organization, from the CEO to the most recently hired. Everybody in an organization has a role in CX.
What do you see as the biggest challenge faced by marketers/CX people today?
One of the biggest challenges is that CX needs to be part of a company’s culture. Most companies don’t see it that way. Simply put, what’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer. CX starts with EX, also known as Employee Experience.
How can they overcome this challenge?
Leadership must define their customer-focused vision. It can’t be complicated. Once it is defined, it needs permanence. It can’t be the flavor of the month or the theme of the year. It must sustain. The CX vision is baked into the culture. And, as a leader who sets the CX initiative, he/she must defend the culture.
If you could tell all marketers just one thing, what would it be?
One word: Consistency.
An explanation: Customer experience must be a consistent and predictable experience. You want customers to use the word always followed by a positive statement about your company when they talk about you. They are always so helpful, the package always shows up on time, and even when there is a problem, I know that I can always count on them to make it right.
“You want #customers to use the word ‘always’ followed by a positive statement about your company when they talk about you,” says @Hyken CLICK TO TWEET
Consistency and predictability is an important part of the CX.
Technology has already transformed marketing in so many ways. How do you see tech continuing to revolutionize the marketer’s role?
Let’s start with the multiple ways customers can connect with you – from in person to online to social media and more. And, the ability to use data to create a personalized experience is powerful. AI can help sort through huge amounts of data that, when used correctly, can help deliver an amazing CX.
“The ability to use #data to create #personalized experiences is powerful — AI can help sort thru data to deliver an amazing #CX,” says @Hyken CLICK TO TWEET
What are you currently reading, or what would you recommend for marketers?
Joey Coleman’s book, Never Lose a Customer Again. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. And, I just received an advance copy and started reading Jeanne Bliss’s new book, Would You Do That to Your Mother? Another outstanding book.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ___________ answer these same questions.
Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce.com, blogger, and author.
Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession.
Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. His articles have been read in hundreds of publications, and is the creator of The Customer Focus™, a customer service training program which helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset.
Special thanks to Shep for his time and insight!
Know someone who would be a great fit for this series? Email us, and let us know!
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Create ads that are triggered based on certain events. Did a customer browse a few items and then leave without doing anything? Or did they put something in their cart and leave the site without purchase? Use these events to trigger retargeting ads specific to the behaviors your customers are exhibiting. Just like abandoned cart and browse abandon emails, these ads will keep your brand top of mind for customers during the holidays.
Social media continues to be a big influencer on online and offline purchases, but it’s also one of the public faces of your brand and goes a long way toward establishing a positive relationship with your audience.
Monitor sentiment of your brand
Customers are far more interested in hearing what other customers have to say about your brand than they are in hearing what you think about your brand. As mentioned before, customers jump between channels looking for competitor prices and overall reviews of products and brands. Make sure you keep a handle on what customers are saying about your brand on social media. If a customer has a bad experience (or a good one), a brand reaching out and addressing the situation goes a long way with customers. You don’t want one bad review to turn into several because you didn’t reach out, especially during the holidays.
Interact with your customers
Outside of ads, personalizing social media for individual customers at scale may seem rather difficult. But what if you monitored and interacted with your customers? Even more than that, what if you used social media to reward your best customers by sharing their experiences? During the holidays, customers look for more than just pricing; they look for a brand who gives them a great experience. By interacting with your customers and rewarding their loyalty publicly, you’re showing how much your customers mean to you and creating a positive sentiment among your audience.
With the holidays quickly approaching, marketers must step back and rethink their strategy if they want to stand out from the competition. Putting the customer first means re-evaluating not only your omnichannel marketing strategy, but also how your customer fits into the mix. Because customers shift between channels and every customer journey is different, your strategy needs to be equipped to handle the omnichannel holiday shopper. By adding personalization to each channel and enabling customers to move through your channels seamlessly, you’ll create an unbeatable customer experience that will build loyal customers who will keep coming back even after the holiday dust has settled.
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